Maybe I’m just old-fashioned or I just can’t help myself or I’m too old to change my heart and mind, but I believe in God. Not a deaf and mute god that just sits and blankly stares all day. But a big and mighty God, Creator of everything, Savior of the world, Lover of my soul. I believe in the Great I AM, Heaven and Hell, and every word on every page of His Holy Word. I believe that the only way to Heaven is through the blood of Jesus Christ. I can’t earn my way there and I can’t make myself worthy enough to get there. It’s just not within me. I was born into sin and without my belief in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I will die in sin and receive an eternal sentence in Hell.
It bothers me that many don’t believe for one reason or another. But that’s their choice. I can’t change their mind and I won’t even try unless it’s up for debate. God created us with a free will so who am I to try to take it away. I just feel bad for the unbeliever. Where do they put their trust when troubles come in like a flood? Friends let us down. The family can’t always be there. Strangers don’t care. So where is their hope?
The church can only help lead us to salvation but it can’t save us. And in some churches, everything and everyone but God is allowed in. But we can find Him on a fishing bank or in a barn or under a tree; anywhere and everywhere we go He is there and ready to speak to our hearts and to cleanse and make us whole. It only takes one simple leap of faith. Why is that so difficult for so many to do? Why is it so easy to believe in nothing and so difficult to believe in God?
Believe it or not, God is alive and well. He sent His Son to die that we might have life. He loves us more than we love ourselves and wants what’s best for us. He heals broken lives, shattered hearts, and troubled minds. He is always on call, every minute of every day. Believe it or not, it’s either your eternal gain or your eternal loss. I pray it’s your eternal gain.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s One and Only Son.” John 3:17, 18 NIV
Twas’ a few days before Christmas and there was nary a tree. No stockings were hung by the chimney with care, no presents, no decorations; no sign of Christmas anywhere. At least, not in our house. Not that we didn’t want to decorate and go shopping and at least conjure up a Christmas spirit, it just wasn’t there. It got gobbled up by pain and depression, empty bank account and a just plain too-sick-and-tired-to-care attitude. Plus the stuporous side effects of the pain medication I was taking didn’t help either.
And to top it all off; the last straw that broke the camel’s back, Pepper chews the corner of the cushion to the love seat. She might as well have chewed up everything in the house. At least the scenario that followed next would have made more sense.
Crying, and limping in pain to my husband sitting at his computer, I sought solace. No, I sought a full-blown miracle. I wanted him to fix it, right then and now. I wanted him to suddenly become the Dog Whisperer and teach our two bratty dogs how to behave. I wanted him to wave his magic wand and make a Christmas tree appear with presents piled under it and a magical star on top. I wanted him to rip the pain from my hip and leg and send it back to Hell from whence it came. I wanted him to be God!
I guess my expectations were just a bit too high. Because, well because he’s just a man, and as hard as he tried to understand this woman boohooing before him, he just didn’t. So we ended up arguing. And I ended up in the twilight zone of ghosts and goblins as I lay sobbing in my bed.
There was the house I grew up in, and my grandmother shuffling from her bedroom to the living room, Bible in hand heading towards her favorite chair. And there were my brothers and my mom and dad, and even me; young and vibrant, not a care in the world sitting on the couch. Between sobs of grief, I saw the spruce Christmas tree decorated with bubble lights, vintage ornaments, and tinsel hanging on the branches. I saw presents under the tree, stockings hanging from the mantle and the spirit of Christmas dancing like jolly elves in everyone’s eyes.
Like zombies everyone I loved and lost wandered aimlessly through my mind, making me happy, making me sad; making me cry and cry and cry.
My husband is beyond frustrated now. He comes to me, pleading with me to tell him why I’m crying so. But no words could describe the awful grief that seemed to have carried me to my own grave.
So he threw up his hands and left me laying there sobbing and clinging to the ghosts invading my mind. That’s when the tree appeared, the one I always ran crying to when no one seemed to understand or care. Now, in my frenzied mind, it was more than just a tree; it was my best friend; my grandfather I never knew; my dad who was never there; my mom who never understood; everyone and everything I needed in times like these but was never there. Void of human arms reaching out to me, I always ran to the tree.
Now, in total desperation, I cling to the tree planted firmly in my mind, drawing comfort from its unshakable strength. The tree, so rugged and steadfast never feared my tears, my overly sensitive emotions, my anger and frustrations. It never made me feel stupid and insignificant. It just let me sit beneath its protective, sturdy limbs and cry and work it all out my way and in my own time.
Suddenly, in the midst of my inconsolable grief, the tree faded away and God appeared, mighty and strong and holding me tightly in His arms. I felt His love and understanding. I heard His words of comfort. I saw His smiling face and knew everything was going to be okay.
Twas’ just a few days before Christmas when an unexpected check arrived in the mail for my husband, enabling us to do a little Christmas shopping for our family. The pain became more bearable, the depression lifted, and I decided not to strangle the dogs. Hubby, the man who grew up with five women, is still scratching his head and wondering what the heck that was all about, and that’s okay. I understand and that makes me easier for him to live with, so what more does he want?
I wonder, did the tree cry when Eve plucked its forbidden fruit? Did it sob with grief; cry out to the universe of the treacherous crime she committed?
Did the luscious fruit writhe with pain between the jaws of death? Did it mourn for the woman who so brazenly murdered her soul?
Did the flowers become faint and did the color drain from their lovely petals? In the heat of the woman’s lustful desire did their faces burn with shame?
Did thunder shake the heavens? Did lightning strike the earth? And the mountains and streams, did they tremble and quake? Did the rocks cry out and the willows bend and weep?
And I wonder, did Satan laugh? Did his devious heart dance with glee? Did his eyes glisten with delight for the victory he thought he had won?
Did the Garden rumble when God called out, “Adam, where are you?” Did the wind whistle and blow? Did the sea become boisterous and did the sun hide its face in the clouds?
Did God cry? Did His sobbing heart split the earth in two? Did he regret forming the clay and breathing into its nostrils the freedom of choice?
Did the angels fold their wings and weep? Did their radiant faces grow dim? Did they cover their heads with ashes of grief?
And I wonder, while covering their nakedness with fig leaves did Adam and Eve mourn their radiant robes of righteousness? When standing guilty before God, did they wish they could somehow erase the reckless, devastating choice they made?
And when the final moment came, did they pound their fists against the iron gates? Did they kick and scream and beg for God to let them back in; to give them a second chance?
I don’t know. But I do know that in spite of His dreadful curse God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to die for it; to wash our hearts clean and lead us back to Him. I know that He’ll never ban me from His presence, slam the gates shut behind me and leave me to wander in the desert of fear and hopelessness. I know that when death closes my eyes on earth God will open them again in Heaven. And I know that I will live with Him there forever.
And with every unworthy breath, with every fiber of my wretched being, I thank Him and praise Him for giving me a second chance.
A committed jogger for seventeen years, I decided to quit one day. Dumbest thing I ever did. That was thirteen years ago and I’ve been falling apart ever since. I’ve gained weight, become a sugar junky, and can barely walk a flight of stairs without getting out of breath and my legs feeling like spaghetti. I can blame it on my age and aches and pains; even use my ailments as excuses for not doing better. But I can only blame myself. I’m the type of person that if a doctor ever told me I’d never walk again, I’d not only walk, I’d run straight into his office wearing an “I told you so” sign around my neck.
But, today I’ve thought: am I angry with myself for getting old? So angry that I’m punishing my body by giving up on it and thinking who the heck cares anyway? Is it self-pity? Loneliness? Depression? Or have I just gotten too fat and lazy to care anymore?
Feeling discouraged, I messaged my son on Facebook this morning. This is what he wrote back:
“I know for myself when I’m out running and training I feel alive, free, and have internal peace. There is a sense of accomplishment each and every time. Not so much in the training but in overcoming all the mental thoughts about why I don’t have to today, or I’m too busy, or my body needs a break and so forth. Once I’m at Hobby Park I look around, and I see the trees, I hear nature, I feel the elements, and I say to myself, “I did it. I’m here.” No one made me, no one encouraged me, no one else had anything to do with me being there, but me. I’ve learned, not in a narcissistic mindset, that really so much that happens in my life is the result of choices I make; good, bad, or ugly. I’m not being anti-dependent upon God, I’m fully dependent upon Him, but even He does not overcome my “flesh” for me. I have to exercise authority over it. Every time I go to Hobby Park I rejoice for overcoming my flesh because I know how difficult the workout is going to be because I control the workout and they SUCK every time, but the sense of accomplishment is awesome. I finish, I look around and it’s just me. No fans cheering me on, no designated finish line and a medal waiting to be placed around my neck; no one even really knowing how difficult the training is I just completed and how I had to push through my body shutting down. But I know!!! God knows!!! The birds, trees, and elements know because they cheer me on! They smile down at me like a father takes pleasure in seeing his son overcome a difficult challenge and not quit. God, His heavenly host, and creation cheer me on and that’s enough for me. Love ya mommy dearest!!!!”
I got off my lazy, fat butt and went for a thirty-minute walk. My body hated me for it, but my mind was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long, over-due relationship with walking and feeling strong again.
I was such an introvert growing up. I’d rather stay in my room with the door shut, singing and playing my accordion than chasing boys in the neighbourhood. Many times I’d storm into my room bawling while strapping on my accordion. Once I started playing and singing, the blues slid off my back and slithered out the door like a snake.
My accordion was my best friend. It helped me get through some of the toughest times of my life, like sitting in school wishing I was anyplace but there. Compared to everyone else I felt brain-dead till I learned to play the accordion. Even the teacher called and asked mom what she had done differently because I was doing so much better in school.
Yeah, my buddy did stuff like that for me. It gave me self-confidence. Heck, If I could learn to squeeze the bellows in and out, figure out which little black buttons to push and play the keyboard all at the same time, I could conquer the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my little world at least.
I realized that God was looking out for me. He knew I needed an outlet, something special that I could do, so He gave me the gift of music. I was never Lawrence Welk or Liberace on accordion and piano. I was just plain me. Like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.
My accordion gave me the courage to sing solos in church, too. Sliding my arms through the shoulder straps, feeling the weight of the accordion against my chest was like wearing a shield of armour. My hands got sweaty and my voice quivered, but I was less afraid with my buddy leaning against me.
I began playing the accordion when I was twelve. Mom bartered the preacher’s wife to give me lessons in exchange for cleaning her house. That only lasted a few weeks. I couldn’t help it that I played what was in my head instead of what was on the music sheet. She shouldn’t have played the stupid song for me before starting the lesson and then again before I left. Not my fault.
She quit. Said I had perfect pitch, whatever that meant, and that she couldn’t teach me. That really made me feel smart. Couldn’t teach me? I thought preacher’s wives always spoke the truth. That’s okay. I didn’t want to figure out all that math and follow those little black notes dancing all over the page anyway. It was so much easier to hear the song and just play it and be done with it.
I was happy that I didn’t have to waste my time practising anymore. It was cramping my style; taking away the joy of playing from my heart. So what if I wasn’t doing it right. It made me feel right and that’s all that mattered to me.
My buddy didn’t mind either. We had a good thing going and didn’t want some impatient accordion teacher messing it up.
As soon as I’d come home from school, I’d play my accordion, sometimes for hours. It was my happy pill when I felt down, my antidote against anger and frustration.
Shortly after I re-married, I bought a new accordion; shiny black, electric, came all the way from Italy. A real beauty. But it could never take the place of the one that saw me through the tough times of growing up. It was faded and worn and stained with tears. The bellows were leaking air, and the leather straps were peeling and cracking. But the most expensive accordion in the world could never replace the memories my best friend and I shared so many years ago.
I guess I can still play the accordion if I’d get it out of the closet. But fifty pounds way back when was light compared to now. But I didn’t stop playing it for that reason. It’s just that other things have taken priority, like a husband and two dogs, digital designs, and doing laundry and cleaning the house. Okay, I’m lying. The truth is I just got out of the habit. Like jogging and walking and eating right. I think I need to get back in the groove.
So tomorrow, If I can still lift it, I’m getting my accordion out of the closet and play it. I miss it. Who knows? It might make me feel twenty again. Heck, I’ll settle for fifty!
Well, this is tomorrow. I dragged my accordion out of the closet. It felt like it weighed a ton, and putting it on was like wrestling an octopus. And just as I knew they would, Bella ran and hid under my husband’s computer desk, trembling and Pepper stood there sniffing it to death.
Ten minutes later, I finally got it on, unhooked the snaps fastening the bellows together, slid my hand under the thickly padded strap attached to the Base and began playing. Just like riding a bike; once you learn you never forget. However, it didn’t make me feel twenty again, not even fifty. I guess nothing can work that kind of miracle!
Growing up, without saying a word, my dad taught me men are not to be trusted. They sleep late, work when they feel like it, and treat women like dirt; expecting them to do everything, be everything, and keep their mouth shut. That’s when anger gave birth to the Incredible Hulk. That’s when a sweet, faint-hearted child became a strong, courageous woman fighting against injustice toward women and all the underdogs of the world. No womanizing, woman-abusing anybody-abuser was safe in my world.
It’s no wonder my ex-husband and I didn’t stay married long. His big mouth was as abusive as his rough hands slapping me till my ears rung and slamming me against the wall squeezing my throat. He just didn’t realize he had a tiger by the tail until he dragged his butt home from work one day to find his bags sitting outside the door and the locks changed.
Now, holding my nine-month-old son on my lap, my cynical, twenty-year-old heart told me I can trust no one. I can depend on no one; not my family, not my friends, not my church, no one. I’ll have to buckle up, woman-up and stand on my own two feet.
As a single mom, divorced and back in the dating scene I soon discovered that guys only wanted one thing from me, and it wasn’t my keen mind. Fueled by the memory of being molested at the age of thirteen, sexually harassed on the job, and nearly date-raped one horror-filled night, the Hulk inside me grew increasingly fierce and strong; fighting all men and needing none because no “real” man existed in this so-called man’s world!
So I stumbled along, alone and raising my son the best I knew how. He was my little man, my hero; the only living soul my heart truly trusted and believed in. Still, my heart yearned for the right man for me. I was too young to go through life alone, and besides, my son deserved a loving father. But the wall of steel protecting my untrusting heart would take the strength of Superman to break down.
One Friday summer’s night out with, my niece and five-year-old, we dragged up and down Main Street in Debbie’s bright yellow, 69 Mustang. It wasn’t my style to do such a teeny-bopper thing but that night I decided to go along just for the fun of it.
Then we spotted them. Two neatly dressed, good-looking guys sitting on the hood of a fire engine red, 63 Ford. Immediately, boy-crazy Debbie pulled into the service station where two curious guys slid off the hood of the car and strutted towards us like a couple of peacocks.
I had just broken up with a church-going-God-professing-born-again Christian who proved to be a druggie, a liar and a cheat, and just plain crazy! Shortly after our break-up, he barged into my apartment waving a gun. I never felt as afraid for my child’s and my life as I did that day. You can only imagine my relief when he said he was going to kill himself and stormed out the door.
So I was far from ready to strike up a conversation, let alone a relationship with Prince Charming poking his head through the car window.
However, soon after meeting that night, Buck and I began dating. But my heart was never off guard. Not even when I saw how much he loved Robbie. Not even when he knelt beside me, gazing into my eyes with the love I’d never seen before. Not even when he asked me to marry him.
My brain said he was a good man. My heart said he’s just like all the others. My brain said he’s good for me and that I can learn to trust him. My heart said when he finds out how I really am, he’ll run, just like everyone else. My brain said to give him a chance. My heart said it will never yield to any man any time this side of heaven.
Six months later, we got married.
This man saw the worst anyone has ever seen in me before and loved me in spite of my suspicions, fears, and insecurities. He held me when I cried, he supported me during counselling, he talked to me, he listened to me, he encouraged me. He lifted me up high and taught me how to fly. No one except Jesus has ever loved me like that before.
He weathered the storm. He pushed through the barriers. He broke down the walls of steel with his stubborn love, his gentle strength and patience and longsuffering. He won my heart.
I thank God for our forty-five years together and for the love and happiness that few people share simply because they don’t push through the rough times. Most of all, I thank God for revealing His unconditional, steadfast, unwavering love for me through my awesome husband; the man He created just for me.
I still have trust issues. I still view the world as being more evil than good. I still, and always will have a fighting spirit against injustice. But because of one man’s stubborn persistence, I finally know the meaning of true love.
Sometimes I wish I were still that little girl, sitting on the kitchen counter, feeling moms firm touch as she slides my socks and shoes over my chubby feet. I wish I could run through the woods with my brothers, chase butterflies, and walk along the banks of the clear, trickling streams. I wish I could turn over one more rock, one more time with my brothers, looking for lizards and taking our precious treasures to the creek and watch them swim away. I wish I could see the bullfrogs plopping through the thick, green grass near the spring house. I wish I could swing beneath the limbs of the old giant oak tree, feel my long red hair blowing in the breeze; my feet nearly touching the sky.
Childhood memories; enthralling interludes between the confusing times of trying to figure things out for myself and having a real sense of belonging in a world so big and mean.
In school, I felt so out-of-place that I might as well have been on the moon. Had I not been so afraid of the consequences, I would have run away every single day. Like the chainsaw massacre, a cloud of doom hung over my head, causing my heart to tremble with fear. And as a shy, insecure six-year-old, nothing was more fearful than a shrew for a teacher and a classroom full of Einstein’s and social butterflies.
It seems that from my first gulp of polluted air in this chaotic world I’ve been plagued with this never-good-enough-something-is-wrong with me feeling. I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it, and I’ve spent nearly my entire life getting rid of it. But it’s stuck like superglue inside my brain.
I guess that’s why being old is so difficult for me. The bigger everyone else’s world gets the smaller mine shrinks. Like a withering flower, old people are viewed by many as losing their charm and beauty and usefulness. We’re too slow, too forgetful, too out of touch with young people’s lingo and technology. It’s as if being old means our feelings are dried up, our ears are deaf, and our physical and emotional desires are dead.
And I wonder: is this how my mother felt when she was seventy-one? What about my dad? They didn’t share their feelings with me; especially not my dad. And the feelings my mother shared were always negative and meant to make me feel responsible for all her woes. So I have no gauge to go by, only my gut telling me that old age just ain’t fair.
The only consolation I have is that all young people if they live long enough, will be old one day. They’ll experience aches and pains, grief and loneliness like never before. They’ll say more good-byes to their family and friends than they ever thought possible. They’ll look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back at them. They’ll feel forgotten, neglected, at the bottom of the totem pole where old people just don’t fit in. I guess only then will they understand that as long as people have air in their lungs their feelings, needs and desires are still alive and worthy of love and respect. Only then will they scream from the top of their lungs to a cold and heartless world, “I’m old, but I ain’t dead!”
We’re sitting on the back porch, Bella pressing her regal nose against the screen watching the squirrels and Pepper curled contentedly on my lap sniffing the air.
Bella’s eyes are like those of an Egyptian Princess; only hers are naturally and perfectly lined in black, melting my heart with her wide-eyed expressions of love every time she looks at me.
Pepper is jet black, except for the white on her chest and dainty paws. Looking up at me, rolling her big brown eyes, it’s as if she’s looking straight into my soul. I press her head against my chest and whisper how beautiful and precious she is to me.
That’s when I got to thinking.
My girls don’t need to take thousands of selfies to prove to the world how beautiful they are. They don’t have to wear the latest fashions, walk with a strut, talk like the Queen, or become members of a Country Club to prove their self-worth. They don’t need hundreds of fans on Facebook or thousands of likes and comments on WordPress to boost and encourage their ego.
My girls don’t need to be painted up, jewelled up or prettied up in any fashion to be dazzling to the eyes and pleasing to the soul.
My girls are lovely and gracious, loving and forgiving, fun and playful. My girls take life as it comes and remain beautiful in spite of the bad things that have happened to them. My girls are strong and loyal and truly excited to see me when I get up in the mornings or come in from being outside for a few minutes. My girls treat me like I’m the most important thing in their lives.
And that’s why I love them. They don’t try to be anything. They don’t try to prove anything. They just are.
I can still hear the distinctive scraping sound of the board sliding across the opening in the floor and see her creeping down the ladder. She only came down to empty the slop jar and replenish her food and water supply. How long had she lived up there, a week? A month? A year? I don’t remember. But I will never forget her dark, glaring eyes and wrinkled frown when she turned and saw me standing there. I’ll never forget the cold-steal blade of anger and hatred piercing my soul or the hurt and confusion I felt.
It was a makeshift bedroom daddy half-heartedly put together for the two of them when my grandmother came to live with us. Mom laid a carpet remnant across the plywood floor and somehow, daddy maneuvered a full-size bed through the narrow opening. Then came an old dresser, and a couple of makeshift night stands and TV. Mom added some personal touches with a few lamps, a pretty bedspread and setting pictures on the dresser. There were no windows or walls or ceiling covering the exposed, unsightly wiring. No heating or air. Just a temporary, cave-like room for my parent’s privacy.
Now, mom made it her permanent home; her escape from a disgruntled mother-in-law; an emotional strike against a family who didn’t seem to care or appreciate the sacrifices she made. Let them fend for themselves. Let them do their own cooking and cleaning, washing and ironing and dealing with the bill collectors banging on the door.
But that’s not what drove her to live in the attic. That’s not what pushed her to the brink of insanity.
For years I hated her foster-mother and the abuse my mother suffered at her hands. I hated my grandmother for putting her in an orphanage and my alcoholic grandfather for molesting her. I hated that my mother was too afraid to run away from her foster home and get help. I hated that she was never able to recover; that she never experienced freedom from her horror-filled childhood. And I hated that the aftermath of her abuse ricocheted through the family poking holes in our souls.
Even today I still wonder how it feels to a child to be held and kissed. To be praised and loved unconditionally. What does the world look like through their fearless eyes? What does it sound like without cruel and condemning voices shouting in their ears?
Looking back, the attic is as dismal today as it was decades ago. Secretly, it holds my mother’s tears, her broken soul and raging screams against an unfair world and a God who would allow bad things to happen; especially to a defenseless child. It holds the secrets of a little girl longing to be loved so that she could know how to love her own children; to be less critical and more patient and understanding. Only the attic knows how she longed for her husband’s physical and emotional support; to help lift and carry her heavy burden and to prove the words of love he spoke to her. And only the attic knows what led her to climb down that creaky ladder that day, put away the slop jar, and join her family again.
I wish I could say that things got better after that, that my youngest brother stopped getting into trouble, drinking and doing drugs. I wish I could say mom never had other breakdowns and that daddy got a job and mom didn’t have to work three jobs to keep our heads above water. I wish I could say that we learned to communicate without screaming and yelling and hurting one another.
But I can’t go back and change a thing. I can only keep pressing forward with a better understanding and perspective than I had as a child. I can appreciate the loving family God gave me through my husband and my son and his growing family. And I can accept that I live in a broken world and bad things are going to happen. It’s not my fault. It’s not God’s fault. It’s just the way of a fallen world. We all have a choice in how we play the cards we are dealt.